Joakim-Lundgren 314Bio4Energy researcher Joakim Lundgren flashes a smile as he prepares to open Systems' Perspectives on Bioresources, the second course of the Bio4Energy Graduate School, 18 March. Photo by courtesy of the Luleå University of Technology.

In a Bio4Energy context, one could think of systems analysis as a tool with which to assess the impact of a process or product over its life cycle in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency. However, seen through the eyes of This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., responsible for coursework in the Bio4Energy Graduate School for PhD students interested in biorefinery, system analysis may also be used by students and professors to understand their own work, in terms of why it is matters and where it fits in.

In fact, his course—Systems’ Perspectives on Bioresources, the second of the graduate school, kicked off 18 March—is designed to do just that: Help students understand "why their research is important", where it fits in the larger perspective of biorefinery and, not least, answer questions such as, "How much does it cost?" and 'What focus and direction should I give my research to make sure the results can be taken into use?', said Lundgren, who is an associate professor at the Luleå University of Technology (LTU) in Sweden.

The course is the second of two which are modeled closely on the Bio4Energy research environment, which aims to develop methods and tools for biorefinery production based on woody materials or organic waste, covering the entire product value chain from designing optimally-suited feedstock, to making biofuels, "green" chemicals and bio-based materials, and to checking that processes and products are sustainable and energy efficient, in a closed-loop system were raw materials are renewable and polluting emissions removed.

Learning to do the 'real thing'

Apart from teaching students how to apply system analysis on their own research, Lundgren and colleagues also want to assist students in making the transition to working life by giving them group or individual assignments which correspond to current needs for research or to calls for research proposals.

"As the examination—instead of writing an end-of-course report—they will write something which will be useful in their future research, such as an application [for research funding], a manuscript for a scientific article or a chapter in their doctoral thesis", said Lundgren. Having used the trick previously in teaching, he said sometimes the applications which students turn out are so well researched and worded that they may be submitted in response to an open call by research funding agencies.

... together with others

The Systems' Perspectives on Bioresources course also gives student researchers a chance to put to the test their ability to work together with others. It does so by encouraging cross-collaboration between research groups based at different universities, research institutes or in industry.

"This has not been altogether easy", Lundgren said, offering an example. If a student researcher's task is to perfect a certain type of membrane designed to separate out undesirable emissions from a biorefinery process, he or she needs to know not only why this is important, but what other aspects of the process need to be adjusted for the whole of the process to work smoothly and, not least, be one to hold a promise of high efficiency and appeal to industry.

"It is about process improvements and better resource efficiency", Lundgren decided, adding; "I hope those who attended have been awakened" to the need to see the bigger picture.

Inspiration from some of the best

Finally, the course is designed to give students inspiration. Even though student numbers are modest, only about 20 are admitted, the coordinators in Bio4Energy have saved no effort in providing inspirational lectures by the likes of This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of the University of Lund and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., a relatively recent B4E member affiliated with the LTU but previously with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The LTU professor This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of the SP Technical Institute of Sweden and Lundgren himself, are others.

Now that the first week of lectures and discussions has come to an end, the students' independent work is set to start in earnest as they prepare to present their respective project outcomes in connection with an oral examination, 9 June at the LTU.

"This is a unique course and the students seem to like it, but we don’t know until we have done an evaluation which we do will now", Lundgren said.

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Systems' Perspectives on Bioresources: Lecturers

Michael Martin, University of Lindköping

Robert Lundmark, Luleå University of Technology (LTU) - Bio4Energy

Kentaro Umeki, LTU - Bio4Energy

Pål Börjesson, University of Lund

Andrea Toffolo, LTU - Bio4Energy

Johanna Berlin, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden - Bio4Energy

Joakim Lundgren, LTU - Bio4Energy

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For a rendition of events in Swedish, see an article on the Luleå University of Technology website.

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